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Lulu in Marrakech

Lulu in Marrakech

2.0 11
by Diane Johnson

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“Timely and provocatively incorrect."—Oprah.com (Mysteries Every Thinking Woman Should Read)

The two-time Pulitzer Prize and three-time National Book Award-nominated author of Le Divorce returns with a mesmerizing novel of double standards and double agents

Now, Diane Johnson brilliantly exposes the manners and


“Timely and provocatively incorrect."—Oprah.com (Mysteries Every Thinking Woman Should Read)

The two-time Pulitzer Prize and three-time National Book Award-nominated author of Le Divorce returns with a mesmerizing novel of double standards and double agents

Now, Diane Johnson brilliantly exposes the manners and morals of the cultural collision between Islam and the West. Lulu Sawyer arrives in Marrakech, Morocco, hoping to rekindle her romance with a worldly Englishman, Ian Drumm. It's the perfect cover for her assignment for the CIA: tracing the flow of money from well-heeled donors to radical Islamic groups. While spending her days poolside among Europeans in villas staffed by maids in abayas, and her nights at lively dinner parties, Lulu observes the fragile and tense coexistence of two cultures. But beneath the surface of this polite expatriate community lies a sinister world laced not only with double standards, but double agents.

Johnson weaves a dazzling tale in the great tradition of works about naïve Americans abroad, with a fascinating new assortment of characters as well as witty and timely observations on the political and sexual complexities between Islamic and Western culture.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Fans of Johnson's NBA finalist Le Divorce will know what to expect: a fish-out-of-water story about a clash of cultures. Still, the tone and scope of this agreeable if quiet story owes more to the author's early work-Persian Nights, in particular-than the better-known ones about Franco-American culture clashes. Like that 1987 book, this one has more than a soupçon of politics thrown into its cultural comedy of manners. Lulu Sawyer is a CIA agent who arrives in Morocco, both to rekindle her romance with worldly English boyfriend Ian and to trace the flow of Western money to radical Islamic groups. She meets with characters both Western and Eastern, which allows for some typically Johnsonian observations ("[Honor killing is] not so common among Algerians.... It's usually the Turks," opines one character). The book works best in small moments and in scenes involving the supporting characters, but the central plot-about Lulu and Ian's relationship-never quite catches fire, and Lulu-as-CIA-agent seems tired and unnecessary. Most fans will wade through the overdetermined plot to get to the sly asides and the astute observation that are and always have been Johnson's forte. (Oct.)

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Library Journal

In her first novel in five years (after L'Affaire), Johnson moves operations out of France and south to Morocco. In a Notorious-style intrigue, Lulu Sawyer is a CIA spy infiltrating the expatriate community in Marrakech. While undercover, she stays at the villa of her wealthy British boyfriend, where she meets a wide cast of characters who could all be innocent bystanders or double agents. They include her Moroccan contact, a young French-Muslim girl escaping certain death in Paris, a gorgeous Saudi wife, and a brother come to exact an honor killing. Morocco is not an original location for a spy story (think Casablanca and The Man Who Knew Too Much), but it works well as a showcase for modern issues like Muslim extremists, terrorism, and money laundering. Sprinkled with deception, romances, and quotes from the Qu'ran, this novel makes a good read, despite its rather unsatisfactory ending. Johnson's Francophile fans may be disappointed with this change in location from her popular Paris-set novels (Le Divorce, Le Mariage, L'Affaire), but other readers, particularly those interested in spy stories or mysteries with a strong female protagonist, will enjoy this. Recommended for fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ6/1/08.]
—Anika Fajardo

Kirkus Reviews
Johnson (L'Affaire, 2003, etc.) breaks new ground by making her American expatriate a CIA spy in Morocco. Thirty-something Lulu Sawyer is on her second assignment. In Kosovo she had begun an affair with an Englishman, Ian Drumm, a wealthy businessman based in Marrakech, where Lulu is now posted. Her cover will include her affair and her work on female literacy programs. Her low-level mission is to gather intelligence on the money trail feeding terrorists. She will be disowned if caught, but that's OK with Lulu, who's looking for adventure and happy to be reunited with Ian at his luxurious estate with its colorful houseguests, both British and American expats. This is not a conventional espionage novel. While Johnson tracks Lulu's tradecraft, she also explores the Western/Islamic divide, illustrated most vividly by different attitudes toward Islam's great prize, virginity, and the dilemma of their neighbor Suma, a young Parisian Muslim in flight from her brother Amid, bent on vengeance for her presumed loss of virginity. The plot thickens when Amid arrives in Marrakech followed by Lulu's case officer, who has tagged him a terrorist. Another complication arises when a Saudi woman, Gazi, leaves her husband for the sanctuary of Ian's home and Lulu realizes they've been conducting their own affair. It's even possible that Ian himself is in cahoots with the terrorists. Bombs go off around the city and Lulu finds herself a principal in a kidnapping that ends in a death. The Americans have messed up; Lulu is one of the fall guys. By now she has grasped that she's "too goody-two-shoes" to be a successful spy, while her love for Ian has deepened. Curiously, though, Johnson has her act out ofcharacter, breaking up with Ian and taking another assignment in London. As stimulating as Johnson's previous work, but there are too many loose ends (an unexplained fire, the fate of a kid nabbed by Moroccan security) and the resolution disappoints. Agent: Lynn Nesbit/Janklow & Nesbit
From the Publisher
“Timely and provocatively incorrect, Lulu in Marrakech is part page-turning thriller, part in-depth examination of gender inequality and the ‘perennial eye infection of colonialism.’"—Oprah.com (Mysteries Every Thinking Woman Should Read)
“She has blended her interest in heavier issues with a lightness of touch… Johnson's novel is not only a gripping page-turner—I don't know when I last just plain enjoyed reading a novel as much as this one—but a serious examination of how a "good person" can get involved in some very dark things.”—Martin Rubin, SFGATE
“As the bemused observer of a complicated, chatty multicultural social set—and her own complicated romantic yearnings—[Lulu]’s a cool, self-aware delight.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Johnson breaks new ground by making her American expatriate a CIA spy in Morocco… As stimulating as Johnson’s previous work.”—Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sold by:
Penguin Group
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File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Diane Johnson is the author of the bestselling novel Le Divorce, a National Book Award finalist, as well as many other novels, including Persian Nights, Health and Happiness, Lying Low, The Shadow Knows, and Burning. She was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Persian Nights, and she co-authored the screenplay to The Shining with Stanley Kubrick. She divides her time between San Francisco and Paris.

Brief Biography

Paris, France, and San Francisco, California
Date of Birth:
April 28, 1934
Place of Birth:
Moline, Illinois
B.A., University of Utah; M.A., Ph.D., UCLA, 1968

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2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
marie_ambrosia More than 1 year ago
I had not read any of Ms. Johnson's books before. I picked this one up at Barnes and Noble and was unsure about its quality after reading other reviews. I don't know anything about Morocco, but I think the story is less to do with the accuracy of Morocco and more about bringing up questions about how different cultures can learn to appreciate each other. I was very interested in the story and also the outcome. I connected with Lulu and wanted to know how things turned out. I have not read many spy books, but felt this was an interesting twist to a book primarily for women. It includes romance, mystery, and thoughts on politics and multi-culturalism. Check it out!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I¿m an American who has lived in Marrakech for nearly 30 years and after reading this book, I¿m wondering what Marrakech the author is talking about? She passes off a mish-mash of foods, traditions, names and clothing from other parts of the Islamic world that have nothing to do with Morocco. There are so many factual errors¿there¿s no Moroccan dish called poulet au poivres rouges no raisins in a pigeon pastilla, and no goats in the trees on the Casablanca road, to name a few¿that I couldn¿t help wondering if the author was going to set her spy story in Marrakech, why on earth didn¿t she take the trouble to get the details right? There are also so many inaccuracies in her descriptions of the relations between Muslims and Christians that it would seem to add even more fuel to the fire of misunderstandings that already exist between us and the Islamic world. If you want to get an authentic look at life in Marrakech as seen by a Western woman, read another book: ¿Zohra¿s Ladder & other Moroccan Tales.¿
Bonnie_C More than 1 year ago
This book was given to me by a friend who knew that I liked to travel to foreign countries and that I enjoyed stories of intrigue. So this should have been a perfect fit. Unfortunately the characterizations in the story were too small and the plot fell way short. Lulu is a CIA agent that reunites with a lover from the past. The lover, Ian, owns a factory in Marrakech that may or may not have been blown up by terrorists. Ian may or may not be a person of interest of the CIA. Suma is an acquaintance whose life may or may not be threatened by her brother. Suma has an acquaintance named Desi who may or may not have been a potential suicide bomber. Suma may or may not have been involved in the may or may not have been suicide bomber plot. I do applaud the author for choosing Marrakech as the background. This offers an almost mystical setting for the story. The merging of Eastern and Western cultures along with the clash of the Christian and Muslim religions is very relevant in today's world. However, the background is not strong enough to overcome the confusion of the plot. I finished this story with as many questions as when I started. With my criticisms stated, this would probably be a book worthy of a discussion group. The characters and events of the story could be developed and understood through discussion and debate. Perhaps then the characters could be seen more clearly and the plot better appreciated.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lulu in Marrakech was for me a victim of preconceived notions. Lulu Sawyer--the alias of a novice CIA field agent--narrates her time in Marrakech with the mission of tracing how money flows to radical Islamist groups. Lulu does not fit the part, or perhaps she internalized her cover story too well -- coming to Marrakech to continue a romance with Englishman Ian Drumm while working on female literacy on the side. Without prior research, she doesn't know what she's getting into and worries when Ian doesn't come pick her up at the airport. Her stay consists mostly of spending time with other expatriates in the Marrakech community, relatively isolated in Ian's villa, contemplating the female Muslim condition in that hesitant, rising pitch intonation that turns everything into an unanswered question. She is kept in the dark by her Company colleagues, and it seems like a sheer coincidence that the intrigue which happens occurs in her small circle. However, if I didn't expect a spy novel in an exotic locale, having known that Diane Johnson is a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize nominated novelist for social and moral comedies featuring American heroines in foreign lands, I might have enjoyed Lulu's experience more. Since the story is well set up for a sequel, I might have the chance to try again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've read hundreds of books in my lifetime and can honestly say there have been less than 5 that I didn't finish. This almost was one, though. I just couldn't seem to really care about Lulu or any of the other characters and had to force myself to finish the book. I kept thinking it would get better, but it didn't. Pretty much a waste of time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
huffyreader More than 1 year ago
With such a lovely book jacket and a fun title, I was greatly disappointed by this book. The title character, Lulu, is allegedly a California girl who works for an unnamed division of the US government that does undercover work. Yet Lulu is so inept at undercover, one believes that she could never even play hide and seek as a child! The author is plainly British, as evidenced by her word usage. Lulu speaks words and phrases that no self respecting Californian - or any twentysomething American, for that matter - would ever prounounce. The plot is mostly unbelievable and pointless. Lulu accomplishes nothing and learns even less. I, however, have learned my lesson about being seduced by book jackets and titles.
evcrow518 More than 1 year ago
This is a story with an identity crisis. Is it a spy story? Is it a romance? Is a statement about Islam? Is it a portrayal of American naivete abroad? Who knows? The author seems to be everywhere and nowhere at once. She doesn't fully develope any of the characters. It's hard to relate or sympathize with any of them including the main character, Lulu. I know that the CIA has made mistakes in the past, but even they wouldn't hire someone so ignorant and uninformed as Lulu. If anyone wishes to read this book, I recommend not purchasing it, but borrowing it. I read it for my book club and, at the end of our discussion, we decided to donate all our copies to charity. None of us desired to keep it as part of our personal collections.